every day“I wake up.”

Most stories spring from the notion of a “what if?” What if we could hear everybody’s thoughts? What if you could spend one more day with a dead relative? What if you grew horns? In the hands of a lesser author, these ideas can flounder and fail, but in the hands of a skilled storyteller, they can become something pretty awesome.

In the case, the question is “What if you woke up in a different body every day?” and it’s in the hands of David Levithan, who is by no means a lesser author, although it was first discussed with John Green, who is. Levithan writes with a charm that I’ve seen in pitifully few authors, imbuing his text with a sense of magic.

This is the story of A, who, every morning, wakes up in the body of someone new and has to live their life for the day. He (although he technically has no gender) has access to their memories, but not their feelings, and never knows exactly where he’ll be tomorrow. There are some limits to it (including the fact that since A is sixteen, he can only turn up in the bodies of sixteen-year-olds), and A has struggled to cope with it all his life.

Everything gets complicated however when he wakes up in the body of Justin and meets his girlfriend, Rhiannon. A immediately falls for her, and sees in Justin’s memories that he is not particularly pleasant to her. Determined to give her a better life, A uses his day as Justin to have a wonderful date. However, the next day it is all over, but A can’t let go. He begins kidnapping the bodies he’s controlling, taking them to see Rhiannon as often as he can.

Eventually, he reveals the truth to Rhiannon who has difficulty accepting it, but eventually sees that it’s the truth. She, too, is falling for A. They try to begin a relationship of sorts, but it becomes difficult, and the confusion is only added to when one of the bodies A inhabits, Nathan, remembers that he was taken over by somebody else and is convinced that he was possessed by the devil, causing a media shitstorm. A must be careful, but he takes more and more risks, potentially destroying lives as he goes.

As I said, the concept is a bit extreme, but in the hands of Levithan, it’s handled well. A is for the most part likeable, and Rhiannon is indeed a very pleasant and kind girl, although acts brow-beaten whenever she’s around Justin. It seems sometimes that there are two Rhiannon’s, as well as countless A’s, because she seems so strong when not in the orbit of her boyfriend. She is strong, displaying intense strength when faced with the difficulty of A’s existence. I like her more than I like A.

A’s intentions and lifestyle starts off good. He does his best to live the day in the same way that the owner of his temporary body would do, but once Rhiannon is on the scene, this goes haywire. He takes days out of these people’s lives for selfish reasons, seeming to show little remorse for potentially ruining their lives, although on one occasion at least it can be argued that he saves a life, despite promising to not interfere. It is this recklessness that leads to his problems with Nathan.

It’s interesting to see him as different characters, to experience the world from different eyes. The story is ultimately about the human condition, and how we’re all just striving to get through the day, and this is shown through characters that are black, white, gay, straight, fat, thin, beautiful, ugly, kind, nasty, and anything in between these. A couple of them feel a little bit like Levithan is just box-ticking, making sure that every minority gets a mention, in particular the obese teenager and the body that is biologically female and gendered male. The latter even warrants a whole speech about how it feels to be in the wrong body, as if the point hasn’t been hammered home enough as it is.

It’s a good book, it’s a classic Levithan and it’s smart. The ending is rather ambiguous and it would be interesting to know what happened to both A and Rhiannon after the final page, but I guess some things are best left to our imaginations.